When sexual misconduct charges against doctors make headlines, organizations need to react quickly

Male doctor in white lab coat
Doctors are in the headlines for sexual misconduct. (Getty/Saklakova)

Doctors continue to end up in the headlines for sexual misconduct. And the organizations that fail to act quickly to help protect victims when made aware of that misbehavior are also getting a black eye.

In one of the strangest cases, doctors who are identical twins are both accused of sexual assault against female patients, according to Cleveland.com.

Former Cleveland Clinic doctor Ryan Williams, M.D., and his twin brother, former doctor Bryan Williams, are both accused of assaulting patients during examinations. Ryan Williams has been placed on administrative leave from his job at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center after officials were made aware of the assault allegations from his time at the Cleveland Clinic. Ryan Williams, a colorectal surgeon, told Cleveland.com he was “horrified” to learn of similar allegations against his brother, who he said he has not seen in years.

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Bryan Williams, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist in Maryland, had his license permanently revoked (PDF) last month by the Maryland State Board of Physicians after seven patients accused him of sexual assault. Bryan Williams was a doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Largo and Kensington, Maryland.

Two patients accused Ryan Williams of sexual assault while he worked at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008 and 2009, allegations reported in an investigation by USA Today. Both brothers say the allegations made by patients are not true and neither has been charged with a crime, Cleveland.com reported.

In both cases, the hospital systems that employed the two doctors are accused by patients of failing to respond to protect other potential victims, the report said. Kaiser Permanente, which fired the doctor in October 2014, has been named in multiple malpractice lawsuits brought against Bryan Williams. In the case of Ryan Williams, a patient sued him and the Cleveland Clinic, which resulted in a confidential settlement.

The USA Today investigation reported that it is not uncommon for hospitals to cover up sexual misconduct by doctors by reaching confidential settlements with patients, including the case at the Cleveland Clinic. Following the USA Today report, a Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman told FierceHealthcare the hospital immediately reported the accusations to appropriate law enforcement agencies and cooperated fully with the investigations.

Cleveland.com reported that Kaiser, in an emailed statement, said "the safety of our patients is our highest priority, and we have no tolerance for behavior that puts our patients at risk."

In another very public case, the former team doctor for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team Larry Nassar is facing his victims at a sentencing hearing this week. Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting 10 girls, but nearly 100 victims were expected to give statements at his hearing, according to NBC News. Among those accusing Nassar are four Olympic gold medalist gymnasts.

RELATED: Newspaper investigation puts spotlight on physician sexual misconduct

Some of the victims have condemned USA Gymnastics, where Nassar was the team physician, and Michigan State University, where he had a sports medicine practice, for failing to acknowledge the mistakes they made before and after the Nassar scandal broke, NBC News said.

The lesson for healthcare organizations? They will face repercussions for trying to sweep allegations of sexual misconduct under the rug. Hospitals and practices must have policies in place to address such behavior and be willing to investigate all complaints, including those against physicians. Organizations must also have processes in place for patients and others to report any concerns. Failure to address allegations can create legal liability and a publicity nightmare.

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